Home Health & Wellbeing
At The Mix, we want to make our services as helpful as we can. To do this, we’d love to ask you a few questions about you, your visit to The Mix and its impact. It should take only about 5-10 minutes to complete. Take this survey and get a chance at winning a £200 Amazon voucher​.
Come and join our Support Circle, every Tuesday, 8 - 9:30pm! Sign up here

Mental health, heredity and children

Former MemberFormer Member Posts: 1,876,324 The Mix Honorary Guru
Hi guys

I have a feeling that at least some of you will be experienced/knowledgeable about these issues, and I'd really like to hear from you if you are as I'm feeling a bit alone in figuring them out at the moment.

I've been with my boyfriend for almost six months now, and although it's still a relatively new relationship we're both feeling a bit blown away by how good things are. And, as you do, we've been skirting around the topic of the long-term - joking about having children, discussing our views on marriage and kids and lifestyles.

The thing is, we both have family with mental health problems and have both suffered from poor mental health ourselves. My maternal grandmother was bipolar and paranoid schizophrenic, my mother is almost certainly undiagnosed bipolar and potentially also schizophrenic (although I will never know for sure as she will absolutely not entertain any notion of having poor mental health due to her experiences with her own mother), and I have suffered several episodes of depression over the past few years. My partner suffers from quite severe chronic depression; he's attempted suicide three times over the past five years after losing his daughter and the breakdown of his marriage, and also suffers from paranoia and anxiety.

So with that cocktail of genetic excitement, we ended up having quite an emotional and painful conversation at the weekend about what might happen if we ever had children. The research I've done on the internet about schizophrenia skipping a generation and how hereditary various mental health problems are has mostly served to confuse and scare me and I honestly don't know how to move forward constructively in my thinking on the matter. I initially got quite angry when my boyfriend said to me that he didn't think we should have children given our families' mental health problems, taking it to mean that it was better not to exist than to be mentally unwell, but after talking more I understand that that isn't what he meant - he said that he wouldn't wish how he's felt in the past on his worst enemy, let alone his babies, and I understand those sentiments completely.

Whether he and I are actually ever going to have children is, at this point, a hypothetical, but my family's mental health history is a very real fact and one that is affecting my thoughts on whether I should have children of my own.

Does anyone have any pertinent information or thoughts of their own on this issue? How do I make responsible decisions about whether I have my own children or adopt? I'd really appreciate any guidance or input from TheSiters on this one - I know how sensible, supportive and knowledgeable you all are and would really appreciate a hand in figuring all this out!

Comments

  • Former MemberFormer Member Posts: 1,876,324 The Mix Honorary Guru
    Me and my boyfriend are in a similar position actually. He has said he didn't want children for the same reasons as your partner. But I am slowly breaking him down as I want our babies. He even discussed with his twin (who is like one of the few in his family with good mental health) using his sperm but I still want to have Randomboy's babies, not his brother's, unless there were fertility problems.

    This is an interesting discussion. Am keen to see where it goes.
  • Former MemberFormer Member Posts: 1,876,324 The Mix Honorary Guru
    There are undiagnosed mental health issues in my family, it wouldn't stop me from having children, but it probably would make me more protective and more likely to make sure that they grow up understanding that the brain can be poorly just as much as any other part of the body could be so if they do grow up and encounter problems they feel able to trust me with them.

    my problems can be traced back three generations but i'm not convinced its not one of those nature vs nurture debates in this instance, so i may have a different perspective.
  • Former MemberFormer Member Posts: 1,876,324 The Mix Honorary Guru
    its a choice only you can make.
    MH problems are rife in the male side of my family. Bipolar, nervous breakdowns, possible aspergers.

    I never really thought about it in advance, but both my boys are on the autistic spectrum (my girl is normal) Luckily, theyre both fairly high functioning, but i wouldnt have any more children, partly because if it was another boy, there would be a good chance he'd be autistic too, and who knows how severe it could be next time.

    Having said that, both my boys are wonderful and i feel very lucky in lots of ways. I also think that many people with MH problems dont have any family history, and if your child did have some problems in that respect, who would be more understanding and helpful than someone whos been through it too.
    I wouldnt see it as a reason to stay childless. You can have mental health problems, and still have a great life. Some of the most wonderful, creative, intelligent and interesting people i know have really suffered with mental health problems in their life. Its not a death sentance.
  • Former MemberFormer Member Posts: 1,876,324 The Mix Honorary Guru
    You can have mental health problems, and still have a great life. Some of the most wonderful, creative, intelligent and interesting people i know have really suffered with mental health problems in their life. Its not a death sentance.

    This ^ :d
  • Former MemberFormer Member Posts: 1,876,324 The Mix Honorary Guru
    I wouldnt see it as a reason to stay childless. You can have mental health problems, and still have a great life. Some of the most wonderful, creative, intelligent and interesting people i know have really suffered with mental health problems in their life. Its not a death sentance.

    I do agree with this, and really appreciate your input as someone who's been there and done it. But I wonder what those wonderful, creative, intelligent and interesting people's experiences of themselves are? Being wonderful and interesting doesn't mean you feel wonderful and interesting, and it certainly doesn't keep terror and pain at bay.

    I guess I'm also worried about what my memories of growing up in a family where my primary caregiver was very unwell for most of my childhood might do to my parenting. What happens to my kids if my partner and I both hit a low patch at the same time? What if he doesn't, but I do, and my child ends up with the same issues that I have because I have been neglectful, or delusional, or afraid? What if the opposite happens, and my very worry about my child developing a mental health problem causes me to be over-protective or extra-vigilant? What if my child develops symptoms that remind me of my mother, and it triggers my own fears? Can you be afraid of your own child?

    What if, what if, what if..... :banghead: I don't necessarily believe any of the above things will happen, and I know how unreasonable I'm sounding, I just need to get all of this said and have it out there in the world for people to respond to - I think I'm exorcising some demons here tonight!
  • Former MemberFormer Member Posts: 1,876,324 The Mix Honorary Guru
    I also think that many people with MH problems dont have any family history

    I think this is the situation I'm in. Although I think there might be a history of ASD on both sides of my family.
    I wouldnt see it as a reason to stay childless. You can have mental health problems, and still have a great life. Some of the most wonderful, creative, intelligent and interesting people i know have really suffered with mental health problems in their life. Its not a death sentance.

    Indeed. I don't plan on staying childless - despite having a few genetic conditions in the family.
  • Former MemberFormer Member Posts: 1,876,324 The Mix Honorary Guru
    I do worry about this, also - psychotic breakdowns, autism, and OCD are all problems in my family history. But, all children, whether there is a history of mental illness or not, are at risk. The best you can hope for is that, if your child does develop them, you are there to help them through it, with experience and understanding.
  • Former MemberFormer Member Posts: 1,876,324 The Mix Honorary Guru
    But I wonder what those wonderful, creative, intelligent and interesting people's experiences of themselves are? Being wonderful and interesting doesn't mean you feel wonderful and interesting, and it certainly doesn't keep terror and pain at bay.
    No it doesnt, and theres always a risk, but I do think a lot of peoples issues are a result of a tendency towards these things, and then the actual severity of them is often down to circumstances, events, parenting, experiences etc.

    I guess I'm also worried about what my memories of growing up in a family where my primary caregiver was very unwell for most of my childhood might do to my parenting. What happens to my kids if my partner and I both hit a low patch at the same time? What if he doesn't, but I do, and my child ends up with the same issues that I have because I have been neglectful, or delusional, or afraid?
    I think maybe this is more of an issue to think about than any genetic risk. Whether you are actually well enough for long enough periods of time to be able to raise a child safely
    What if the opposite happens, and my very worry about my child developing a mental health problem causes me to be over-protective or extra-vigilant?
    nothing wrong with being vigilant to minimise your childs risks. Depends on what level youre talking about.
    What if my child develops symptoms that remind me of my mother, and it triggers my own fears? Can you be afraid of your own child?

    I cant tell you that. youd need to look at why your mother turned out how she did, and whether you think its down to genetics or down to her own experiences.
    I cant imagine you all of a sudden just being afraid of your child because they had aspects of your mothers personality. The love you have for a child is not the same as a relationship with your mother.



    It sounds like youve got a lot to think about, but it sounds more to me like the issue is whether youre well enough to raise a child, more than whether a child may develop MH problems
  • Former MemberFormer Member Posts: 1,876,324 The Mix Honorary Guru
    There's a significant body of evidence that indicates that mental ill health is more to do with experience and environment than it is anything to do with genetics. Certainly as the human genome is studied more they're apparently struggling to find certain genomes that cause mental ill health.

    It's certainly true that parents with mental ill health are more likely to have children with mental ill health, but the theory is that it is their own mental health problems that mean that their parenting is less stable and less consistent. If you're not mentally well enough to be a stable and consistent carer, you're more likely to cause emotional and mental health problems in your children. If you can't look after yourself, you can't look after children, and a failure to care for your children DOES damage them.

    Many mental health problems have their root causes in early childhood, the first 1-2 years, usually as a reaction to trauma, abuse and inconsistent care. Certainly borderline personality disorder is one such illness which is caused by inconsistent care in early childhood compounded by abuse or trauma in early adolescence- the inconsistent care can simply be a mother with postnatal depression who can't cope with a screaming baby and is sometimes loving and sometimes distraught and sometimes angry, but can also be such things as child sex abuse or emotional abuse. It's also thought that things like schizophrenia come from similar problems in early childhood, especially if child sex abuse occurs.

    It isn't that you will pass your mental illness on through your genes, it's that if you're unwell you're not able to provide the level of stability and security that children need to develop emotionally. So the question becomes one of how well you are. If you're functioning fully, or nearly fully, you will be fine and your children will be fine. If there are days when you are catatonic with depression, you will need to work through these with your partner to make sure that your children remain cared for and loved consistently and securely. If both you and your partner have severe mental health problems and they affect your day-to-day life then you should seriously think about whether children are a good idea. The lack of sleep and the high level responsibility for a helpless child will exacerbate existing problems, and if you're not well enough to look after yourself you're sure as hell not well enough to look after your child.

    Learning disabilities like autism, dyslexia and dyspraxia are different I think, they are hereditary. But autism isn't a mental illness, even though it can and does cause behavioural problems.
  • Former MemberFormer Member Posts: 1,876,324 The Mix Honorary Guru
    Learning disabilities like autism, dyslexia and dyspraxia are different I think, they are hereditary. But autism isn't a mental illness, even though it can and does cause behavioural problems.

    Why do social services class autism as a mental health problem (I know some people who class it as a personality disorder, as popposed to learning difficulty) if the IQ is above a certain number
  • Former MemberFormer Member Posts: 1,876,324 The Mix Honorary Guru
    i dont think its either of those things.
  • Former MemberFormer Member Posts: 1,876,324 The Mix Honorary Guru
    I really don't think autistic spectrum disorders are mental illnesses or personality disorders, I think that they are learning disabilities. Inevitably the more serious disorders do cause behavioural problems which require additional care needs, but I don't think that makes someone with autism mentally ill.

    I don't know what social workers think about autism, but I wouldn't trust their judgement too much. The mental illness I have, borderline personality disorder, is seen as "untreatable" by many social workers and mental health workers, so they don't bother treating borderlines. But it is treatable.
  • Former MemberFormer Member Posts: 1,876,324 The Mix Honorary Guru
    I don't know what social workers think about autism, but I wouldn't trust their judgement too much. The mental illness I have, borderline personality disorder, is seen as "untreatable" by many social workers and mental health workers, so they don't bother treating borderlines. But it is treatable.

    That's the battle I'm fighting at the moment :(
  • Former MemberFormer Member Posts: 1,876,324 The Mix Honorary Guru
    There also seems to be a failure to acknowledge the difference between untreatable and unmanageable. No, you might not be able to fully treat something and make it go away entirely, but that doesn't mean that there isn't a treatment potential that will help with managing a situation and significantly reducing the impact.
  • Former MemberFormer Member Posts: 1,876,324 The Mix Honorary Guru
    I was lucky that there's a specialist unit for borderlines in Newcastle, which I was referred to all those years ago, which has treated the condition in a massive way. Yes, it's still there and probably always will be, but it's manageable now.

    Sadly so many other areas don't have the same specialist treatments. Of all the other borderlines I know, I don't think any seem to be getting the treatment they need. Because of the condition it can be hard to get borderlines to open up, so they get marked as 'resistant' and 'obnoxious' so they get no help, which makes it harder for them to open up, which makes everything so much worse.

    You'd have thought that they'd have worked this out by now.
  • Former MemberFormer Member Posts: 1,876,324 The Mix Honorary Guru
    My mum blames herself for my mh difficulties because she had a post-natal breakdown after my sister was born (when I was two) and again when I was nine and her dad died.

    The thing is, although she later found out she was diagnosed with depression when she was 16 her parents chose not to tell her and so she had no reason to believe that she would develop mental health difficulties during my childhood.

    You're lucky, in a way, to be able to consider this as a factor when you start planning for a family but I don't think it means you can't be a parent, because anyone can develop difficulties that affect their children.

    Despite all of that, though, I wouldn't change my mum for the world.
  • Former MemberFormer Member Posts: 1,876,324 The Mix Honorary Guru
    Similar here. My mum had really bad post-natal depression with me, together with homesickness, together with the fact I was an awful baby who never slept. I think that's caused some of the problems but the real cause is the bullying when I reached adolescence; without the latter the former wouldn't have been any issue at all. I think my mum blames herself, but she shouldn't. I wouldn't swap her for anything.

    Things are better and easier now. Post-natal depression is understood and there's really good genuine help available, so mothers aren't left alone to suffer in silence anymore. It's OK to say you're struggling, which makes life so much easier. The only consideration really is how much to disclose; whilst the horror stories are just that, horror stories, social workers do sometimes get ideas above their station with parents who are mentally unwell.
  • Former MemberFormer Member Posts: 1,876,324 The Mix Honorary Guru
    I think that's caused some of the problems but the real cause is the bullying when I reached adolescence; without the latter the former wouldn't have been any issue at all.

    Completely agreed, and as I understand it that's a general theme in the nature of the difficulties people develop.

    My sister's not fucked up and she lived in the same house I did, but had an easier ride at school. Simplistic, but common.
  • Former MemberFormer Member Posts: 1,876,324 The Mix Honorary Guru
    I had a shit time at school and have a LOT of issues stemming from that.
  • Former MemberFormer Member Posts: 1,876,324 The Mix Honorary Guru
    I had a shit time at school and have a LOT of issues stemming from that.

    same here
Sign In or Register to comment.